Keith Laumer, Part 4: Bolo

Rouge Bolo by Keith Laumer

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Over the last few weeks, we have looked at all of the Baen reissue editions of Keith Laumer’s works, featuring all ten volumes: Retief! (along with William H. Keith, Jr.’s Retief’s Peace), Odyssey, Keith Laumer: The Lighter Side, A Plague of Demons & Other Stories, Future Imperfect, Legions of Space, Imperium, The Long Twilight and Other Stories, Earthblood & Other Stories, and The Universe Twister.  Now, we have finally arrived at the fourth and final part of our exploration of the works of Keith Laumer, focusing on his most famous creations: the superheavy, artificially intelligent Bolo tanks.

Keith Laumer surprisingly only has six short stories and two novels of the Bolos to his name, despite the wide-spread fame they gathered both before and after his death.  The six short stories are each among the best of Laumer’s work, especially the very powerful “The Last Command” and “A Relic of War.”  All six (“The Night of the Trolls,” “Courier” [also known as “The Frozen Planet”], “Field Test,” “The Last Command,” “A Relic of War,” and “Combat Unit”) were originally published in various magazines, before being collected in 1976 as Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade, Laumer’s first book-length set of Bolo ficition.

Not much was done with the Bolo tanks after the publication of Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade, until Laumer returned to the Bolos with his first novel set among the tanks, published in 1989: Rogue Bolo.  This exciting novel explores question of the value of war, and whether we lose our control of it when we send out something other than ourselves to fight our wars for us.  In a world of ever expanding use of drones and long range fighting in our modern warfare, Laumer’s Rogue Bolo becomes more pertinent than ever before.

The very next year (1990) saw the release of two more Laumer Bolo books: The Compleat Bolo and The Stars Must WaitThe Compleat Bolo was an omnibus version of Laumer’s first two Bolo books, Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade and Rogue BoloThe Stars Must Wait, however, was a brand new Bolo novel.  While not one of Laumer’s greatest books, it still hints at his ability to craft strong writing and exciting passages, bringing a sense of suspense and intrigue to his Bolo series.  The Stars Must Wait was among the last few novels Laumer published before his death, and is also the only Bolo book that is both out of print and unavailable as an ebook.

However, the Bolos were far from over at this point.  In 1993, the same year that Keith Laumer died, Baen released Bolos Book I: Honor of the Regiment.  Featuring fiction from S.M. Stirling, S.N. Lewitt, J. Andrew Keith, Todd Johnson, Mike Resnick & Barry N. Malzberg, Christopher Stasheff, Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon, and David Drake, Honor of the Regiment brought the worlds of the Bolos into a shared universe setting, allowing writers both famous and unknown to explore the setting that Laumer had created so many decades ago.  The huge success of the first anthology lead to a number of further Bolo books, and the birth of the post-Laumer Bolo series.

The next year (1994) saw the release of Bolos Book II: The Unconquerable, and in 1995 Bolos Book III: The Triumphant hit shelves.  The series continued into 1997 with another anthology, Bolos Book IV: Last Stand.  That same year, the series branched out with the release of the first Bolo novel not written by Keith Laumer.

William H. Keith, Jr. (who would later work with another Laumer classic in Retief’s Peace, among other works) wrote Bolo Brigade, which features an intergalactic treaty that results in two outdated and obsolete Bolos, Freddy and Ferdy, being placed on the planet Muir as part of that planet’s defense protocols.  However, the two Bolos are hamstrung by regulations, meant to make them more symbols of power rather than actually dangerous implements of war.  That works out fine, until dinosaur-like aliens attack the planet, and only the nearly weaponless Bolos stand in between the vicious aliens and the humans of Muir.  Keith followed Bolo Brigade with Bolo Rising in 1998 and Bolo Strike in 2001.  Keith’s Bolo Trilogy captured the action and excitement of Laumer’s own Bolo stories, mixing fast paced action with intelligent thought on the nature of war machines and people thrust into a world of violence.  William H. Keith, Jr. writes some of the best post-Laumer Bolo work available.

The same year William H. Keith, Jr. finished his Bolo Trilogy, the anthology series continued with Bolos Book V: Old Guard.  The next year (2002), the final volume of the anthology series, Bolos Book VI: Cold Steel, was released.  A couple years passed before a new Bolo book reached readers.

John Ringo (famous for his Posleen War series, which began with A Hymn Before Battle) and Linda Evans (best known for her collaborations with David Weber on Hell’s Gate and Hell Hath No Fury) teamed up to write the new Bolo novel The Road to Damascus.  Ringo and Evans brought political and legal intrigue to the worlds of the Bolos, as human veterans find their Bolo comrades turned against them by the will of an evil, brainwashing politician hoping for a coup that leaves him leader of the planet.  The Road to Damscus isn’t the best work from Ringo or Evans, nor is it the best of the Bolo works, but it isn’t bad, and helped to carry the series on into the future.

2005 proved to be a big year for David Weber when it came to Bolo fiction.  Weber’s Bolo! was a collection of all of his previously published Bolo fiction, including the short stories he wrote for the Bolos anthology series, as well as a brand new story.  This worked as a nice setup for Weber’s next 2005 release, Old Soldiers, a new Bolo novel.  Old Soldiers features two war veterans, one human and one Bolo, as they must overcome their painful memories of a past filled with war if they hope to join together and stop an invading alien force from destroying everything that the humans on the planet have worked to build.  The two books together show off Weber’s strengths to great effect and are excellent additions to the Bolo series.

The series saw its latest volume come out in 2010.  The Best of the Bolos: Their Finest Hour is a retrospective anthology that collects the best short stories featuring the Bolos, pulling from both Laumer’s Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade and the Bolos anthology series.  This volume brought the series full circle, uniting the original works by Laumer with the vast body of post-Laumer Bolo fiction.  While nothing says that this is the end of the Bolos, Their Finest Hour proves a neat capper on a story decades in the making.

We can now bring this exploration of Keith Laumer to an end.  While we looked at a large chunk of his fiction, there is still plenty more out there.  Much of Laumer’s fiction has yet to be recollected and republished, and much of it is great work from a master writer.  Hopefully all fans of exciting, intelligent science fiction action and adventure will give Keith Laumer a shot if they haven’t already, and discover a great writer who deserves to be far better known than he is.

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